Gather. Connect. Explore.
Library service in Waterloo dates back to 1896, when the Waterloo Public Library threw open its doors to two rental spaces — one on either side of the Cedar River — so that residents would have access to books wherever they lived.
Within just a few years, there was need for greater space for the library, and the Carnegie Foundation was there to help, with a donation of $30,000 for a new library building. But a problem arose: residents on both sides of town clamored for the building to be on their side of the river. There seemed to be no suitable solution until the mayor suggested constructing a library in the middle of the Fourth Street bridge that was being built to span the river. This was an interesting idea! — but also would add to the cost of the project. Again, Carnegie came to the rescue: the foundation upped their offer to $40,000 total for one mid-river building or two $20,000 buildings, one on each side of the river. City leaders chose the second option. The actual amount for each building varied a little from the proposed $20k, but in the end, two Carnegie libraries were built and opened in 1906. They served the residents for several decades*.
Fast forward to 1977, when voters approved a bond referendum to finance renovations to a stately Italian Renaissance-style building that had served as th
e city's post office and federal building. With improvements and additions, the 1938 building just west of the river proved to be perfect for a new and roomier library. Today, the 65,000 square foot building houses meeting rooms, a Local History & Genealogy Room, dedicated teen and children's spaces, a well-stocked makerspace, as well as a large collection of materials. And even through reconfiguration and modernization, some important reminders of the past still exist: two murals ("Exposition" and "Holiday"), painted by New Deal artist Edgar Britton in 1940, continue to adorn the walls of the building.
WPL serves 68,000 residents of the City of Waterloo with a staff of 30.26 FTE and an operating budget of $2.5 million. In FY2019 (a "normal" year!), the library welcomed nearly 182,000 visitors who checked out more than 293,000 items. WPL's physical collection included approximately 82,300 books, 10,500 audio materials, 10,600 videos, 91 magazine subscriptions, and 86 other miscellaneous items. In addition, thanks to Iowa's Open Access program, patrons with a valid library card can check out physical materials at any participating public or academic library in the state. Thousands more materials may be downloaded from the library's vast digital collections.
The library offered 880 programs and events that were attended by more than 33,000 people in 2019. WPL adapted to the unique year that was 2020 by adding curbside pickup and printing services, curating materials to address social issues and current events, and adding numerous virtual offerings.
The Director reports to and is advised by a Board of Trustees consisting of 5 appointed members who serve staggered terms. The Friends of the Library help support the library through their fundraising, volunteer, and advocacy activities.
*The Carnegie buildings continue to exist today! — no longer serving as libraries, but both are still in use and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photos courtesy of Waterloo Public Library